Who's controlling your brand?
It scares me to think how much has changed since I started my career. I don’t think I’ve been around that long until I see the look of disbelief when I tell people, younger than me, that I used to have to jump on a plane to New York (courtesy of my magazine publisher employee) to ensure film for the run of page adverts arrived in time for the print-run of the US edition! Apologies for my trip down memory lane, I would like to stress that I am the right side of 50 so I hope this story serves to illustrate the massive speed of change and technological advancement that has taken place over the past 20 years.
In the ‘good ol’ days’ brands were largely in control of the messages and communication that consumers received. Compared to today, there were relatively few communication channels – mail, telephone, print media and broadcast – and none of them allowed consumers to talk back publicly. If you had a bad brand experience only your closest friends and family would know about it, unless by chance you managed to get a slot on ‘Watchdog’ or the letter page of a newspaper. It was very easy for companies to deliver-up poor service, shoddy ethics and dodgy products because consumers didn’t have a voice.
The companies that behave badly or aren’t giving customers what they want will be publicly identified and disgraced. ”
Nowadays the power between brands and customers has switched. The internet, and in particular social media, enables consumers to instantly share their experiences with millions – so companies that behave badly or aren’t giving customers what they want will be publicly identified and disgraced.
Here are just some of the more famous company fails which have gone viral:
Canadian musician Dave Carroll watched United Airlines ground staff break his expensive guitar from the window of his plane. But when United Airlines refused to compensate he composed a song and posted the video on YouTube. 14.5 million views later the company finally paid up.
Sir Patrick Stewart better known as Captain Jean-Lu Picard from the Starship Enterprise, tweeted about poor service from Time Warner. Despite Time Warner responding quickly, Sir Patrick’s 1.63 million followers ensured his post went viral.
My favourite, one FedEx employee was caught on film tossing a computer monitor over a gate, smashing the contents – complete with perfectly positioned FedEx van. The owner put the video on YouTube where it’s since racked up 9.5 million views.
But it’s not all bad. Companies can differentiate themselves by offering outstanding service and excellent customer experiences. Joshie the giraffe was left behind by his owner at the Ritz-Carlton, but the hotel staff made sure he made the most of his extended stay by posting pics of Joshie to his owner sunbathing, having a massage and partying with other animal friends – all of which were recounted on social media by his family when they were finally reunited.
Companies now need to be more transparent than ever before. They can no longer hide behind a corporate façade – so as well as offering good service and excellent products, they need to be friendly, personable, accessible and above all human. When they do make mistakes they must act quickly and be genuine – consumers will forgive most things but not avoidance and denial.